No Italian holiday is complete without visiting Rome, and no trip to Sicily is complete without driving around that historic island. On this 11-day itinerary you'll do both, starting with tours of Rome's most ancient and beautiful sights. In Sicily, you'll hop in a rental car and travel from its capital of Palermo along the stunning north coast to the east side, stopping at other historic cities like Syracuse and Catania.

Highlights

  • Go back in time to ancient Rome with a tour of the Colosseum
  • Tour the halls and basilicas of the Vatican
  • Cool off by the Pretoria Fountain in Palermo
  • Visit ancient Greek ruins at Syracuse
  • Dine on fresh seafood in sophisticated Taormina

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Rome Rome
Day 2 Vatican & Classic Tour of Rome Rome
Day 3 Private Colosseum & Forum Tour - Cooking Class Rome
Day 4 Fly From Rome to Palermo - Pick up Rental Car Palermo
Day 5 Guided Tour of Palermo - Visit Monreale Palermo
Day 6 Drive From Palermo to Taormina - Visit Cefalù Taormina
Day 7 Explore Taormina - Guided Mount Etna Hike Taormina
Day 8 Drive from Taormina to Syracuse - Visit Noto Syracuse
Day 9 Guided Tour of Syracuse Syracuse
Day 10 Drive from Syracuse to Catania - Fly to Rome Rome
Day 11 Goodbye, Italy  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Rome

Colonna di Marco Aurelio in Piazza Colonna
Colonna di Marco Aurelio in Piazza Colonna

Welcome to Rome, City of the Seven Hills! According to legend, Rome was founded by brothers Romulus and Remus in 753 B.C.E. atop Palatine Hill. The long-time center of the powerful Roman Empire, Rome boasts nearly 3,000 years of architecture, history, and culture. 

After arriving at one of Rome's airports, you'll transfer to your hotel in the historic center. Settle in and relax, then head out for a stroll and your first look at the Eternal City. Your next few days will involve lots of sightseeing, so check out some of Rome's landmarks and sites. 

For an authentic market experience stop by the Mercato dei Fiori, where locals shop for fresh vegetables, a wide selection of flowers, meats, and cheeses. Browse for authentic Italian pasta and other souvenirs then take a break with coffee and a pastry at one of the many cafes surrounding the market. 

Day 2: Vatican & Classic Tour of Rome

St. Peter's Square and the Vatican
St. Peter's Square and the Vatican

Today you will visit the Vatican City museums and Sistine Chapel, as well as other top sights for an exclusive 6-hour tour of the city's incredible art and history. Start at the Vatican, where you'll visit the Pio Clementio Museum, Gallery of the Candelabra, Gallery of Tapestries, and Gallery of the Geographical Maps

Continue to see the magnificent Raphael Rooms, ending in the breathtaking Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica. Experience the magic of Renaissance art as you learn about the secret details and untold stories of the masterpieces. 

Afterward, continue into a city for a tour of the city's most notable landmarks. Cross Piazza della Repubblica to see the Fountain of the Nyands, then continue to see the Trevi Fountain, La Colonna di Marco Aurelio, and the Palazzo di Montecitorio, which was designed by Bernini.

Admire the exterior of the Pantheon and head inside for a look at the ancient Roman temple, then head to Palazzo Madama—the Senate seat—ending at Piazza Navona.

End your evening with a stroll to the neighborhood piazza for gelato and some people watching.

Day 3: Private Colosseum & Forum Tour - Cooking Class

The ancient Roman Colosseum
The ancient Roman Colosseum

In the morning meet your archaeologist guide and dive into the history of the Roman Empire with a private guided walking tour of the Colosseum, the world's largest amphitheater (tickets included). You'll explore the main complex, as well as the Belvedere, the recently opened third ring with a view of the arena and the Imperial Forums up to the fourth and fifth rings. 

Walking through the ancient amphitheater is like taking a trip back in time to the days of the Roman Empire. At its prime, the Colosseum held 50,000 spectators and was the central venue for gladiator fights. Learn about some of ancient Rome's most famous and illustrious citizens, such as Julius Caesar, Emperors Augustus and Nero, and the Flavian Emperors who built the Colosseum. 

From here, continue to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, built between 46 BCE and 113 CEC. Walk along the ancient Roman street Via Sacra to see the Temples of Vesta, Antonino, and Faustina. See the ancient Basilica Julia and Aemilia and experience the grandeur of the Roman Empire.

Enjoy some time to yourself, then, in the afternoon, head to a cooking class to learn to make traditional Roman pasta specialties. You'll make Cacio e Pepe, Carbonara, and Amatriciana—all Italian favorites. Start with a combination of great local ingredients (pecorino cheese, fresh meat, and eggs), then make the perfect sauce with fresh market vegetables. Form the homemade dough into the classic pasta shapes and combine everything for a delicious meal. 

Once you're finished, sit down to enjoy your creations for dinner paired with the perfect glass of wine.

Day 4: Fly From Rome to Palermo - Pick up Rental Car

View over Palmero at sunset
View over Palmero at sunset

Today, a transfer will take you to the airport where you'll board a one-hour flight to Palermo. Sicily's regional capital boasts beautiful Mediterranean weather and a long and storied history with Roman, Byzantine, Arab, and Norman influences. You'll see this mix of cultures reflected in Palermo's architecture, music, and cuisine. 

Upon arrival at the airport, you'll pick up your rental car and drive 45 minutes to your hotel in the heart of the city to settle in. The rest of the day is yours to spend as you like.

You can discover Palermo right away on a self-guided walking tour. The best place to begin is Palermo's historic center. Its medieval streets are easy to navigate by foot, and there are many attractions and restaurants within walking distance. To get your bearings, take a passeggiata (stroll) along the narrow Via Maqueda, a pedestrianized thoroughfare that connects the north of the city to the south. A good place to start is the Fontana Pretoria, a Baroque fountain in the Piazza Pretoria.

Day 5: Guided Tour of Palermo - Visit Monreale

View of the cityscape from the Palermo Cathedral rooftop
View of the cityscape from the Palermo Cathedral rooftop

In the morning you will meet your guide for a private half-day tour of the Sicilian capital. Quattro Canti (officially known as Piazza Vigliena), Palazzo Reale, the 12th-century Duomo (the Palermo Cathedral), and Marina Square are some examples of the architectural masterpieces you'll come across. You'll also visit Capo Market, a great spot to pick up some lunch or a typical snack like panelle (chickpea fritters) and cazzilli (pan-fried potato croquettes).

In the afternoon, you might consider driving a short way to the town of Monreale. On the slopes of Monte Caputo, you'll discover what is thought to be the greatest example of Norman architecture in the world, the Cattedrale di Monreale (Monreale Cathedral). This 12th-century UNESCO Heritage Site is made up of ornate cloisters and gold mosaics featuring scenes from the Old and New Testaments. Admire the Norman-Byzantine art and architecture as you tour this national monument.

When you're ready, spend a little time wandering Monreale itself. Consider a stroll through the Belvedere public garden where you can enjoy a beautiful view over the Conca d'Oro below, a fertile valley abounding with citrus trees.

Day 6: Drive From Palermo to Taormina - Visit Cefalù

The seaside town of Cefalù
The seaside town of Cefalù

Start early and drive one hour to Cefalù, a historic port town. You can begin a self-guided tour in the city center at the Lavatoio Medievale, a 16th-century washhouse that utilizes running water from the River Cefalino in its stone basins. Nearby is the Porta Pescara, a gate to Cefalù Beach that features great views of the coastline. Perhaps take a walk to the old harbor and stroll the seaside promenade; the city's Lungomare Beach is also a popular destination for visitors and locals. 

You should definitely visit the 17th-century Bastione di Capo Marchiafava, one of many old defensive fortresses located along the coast. The view from the top of the Bastione is a real treat. Right nearby is the Norman-Arabic Duomo Basilica Cattedrale (Cefalù Cathedral) which dates to the 12th century. And if there's time, climb the Rocca, the promontory above the city. A steep staircase winds through city walls before emerging onto a rocky outcrop with stunning views of the city and ocean. 

Continue your drive about three hours east to the seaside town of Taormina, where you'll check into your hotel.

Day 7: Explore Taormina - Guided Mount Etna Hike

View of Taormina from Castelmola
View of Taormina from Castelmola

Enjoy a leisurely morning on a self-guided tour of the city. Perhaps walk across the spit of land to Isola Bella and visit the 17th-century palace, elegant gardens, and fishing village. Alternatively, there are ruins of a medieval castle and the hilly streets of Castelmola, a small village located three miles (five km) north of Taormina. If you're in want of a beach day, there's the Taormina Mare, an impressive stretch of coastline characterized by rocky outcroppings, lidos (public beaches with amenities), and a variety of restaurants and cafés. 

In the afternoon, head inland toward Europe's largest active volcano, Mount Etna. You'll arrive at Rifugio Sapienza, Etna's southern access point, and prepare for a guided hike. After organizing your equipment, you'll ride a cable car up 9,500 feet (2,900 m) to Torre del Filosofo, the last accessible lookout point before the summit. Enjoy the breathtaking scenery that includes solidified lava flows, smoke fumaroles, and wide vistas that stretch out to the Mediterranean.

Upon your return to your car, you'll make your way back to Taormina. Cap off the day with a rewarding scoop of gelato as you take a passegiata along the seafront promenade to enjoy the old gardens of the Villa Comunale.

Day 8: Drive from Taormina to Syracuse - Visit Noto

Castello Maniace at the tip of Syracuse's Ortygia Island
Castello Maniace at the tip of Syracuse's Ortygia Island

This morning you'll drive south two hours south along the coast to Noto to spend some time exploring this postcard-perfect baroque city. In a couple of hours, you can easily cover the town on foot. Stroll Corso Vittorio Emanuele and walk beneath Porta Reale (Royal Gate), taking in the embellished architecture at every turn, like the Chiesa di Santa Chiara, and end your walk at the spectacular 18th-century limestone Noto Cathedral

From here you'll continue up the coast about 45 minutes to your hotel on the island of Ortygia, the historical heart of the city of Syracuse, and check into your hotel. Sometimes called Città Vecchia (Old City), Ortygia is an easily walkable area full of treasures waiting to be discovered. Perhaps begin with a walk around the island before ducking into the network of narrow and winding alleyways, passing churches and baroque palaces as you go. You can't go wrong here, as everything is a visual treat.

Day 9: Guided Tour of Syracuse

The greek theater of Syracuse
The greek theater of Syracuse

Take the day to immerse yourself in historic Syracuse, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Renowned for its rich Greek history, culture, architecture, as well as the birthplace of engineer and mathematician Archimedes, Syracuse was long regarded as one of the major powers in the Mediterranean.

Dedicate the morning to explore the ancient ruins of the Ionian coast on a guided tour of Syracuse (about three hours). Venture to the Neapolis Archaeological Park for a stroll among the ruins and ancient relics together with your expert guide. Learn about the region's Greek and Roman history as you explore the architecture and then continue the walking tour through Ortygia—Syracuse's beautiful old town, located on a spit of land which extends into the Mediterranean. 

Afterward, you'll have the afternoon free. Lose yourself in Syracuse's winding streets and discover hidden gems like the late 19th-century Palazzo Impellizzeri, done in the indulgent Rococo style. There's also the Temple of Apollo in Piazza Pancali, and the underground San Giovanni Crypt and Catacombs, which date to the 6th century. Alternatively, if you're in need of a little relaxation, laze on the golden sands of Arenella Beach, just 20 minutes south of Syracuse.

Day 10: Drive from Syracuse to Catania - Fly to Rome

Via Etnea and Mount Etna
Via Etnea and Mount Etna

After breakfast, make the one-hour transfer north to Catania. Sicily's second-largest city next to Palermo, Catania sits at the foot of Mount Etna and deserves a little exploration if there's time before dropping off your car rental and catching your departure flight. Depending on traffic, it typically takes 15 to 20 minutes to travel from Catania's center to the airport. Best to arrive at the airport at least two hours prior to your international departure (and with some extra time to drop off your rental car).

Day 11: Goodbye, Italy

Farewell, Italy
Farewell, Italy

After one last cappuccino over breakfast, head to the airport for your connecting flight home. Have a good trip!

Map

Map of Rome & Sicily Highlights - 11 Days
Map of Rome & Sicily Highlights - 11 Days